In a Place Called Reelfoot Lake

G. Sam Piatt - Outdoors Columnist



Surely our little hummingbirds would not have left us before the middle of September for their long flight south, would they?

I put out fresh sugar water three days ago. They came, tasted it, and filled their bellies.

But as of this writing I haven’t seen them for four days. This is unusual, for they came all summer to feed daily.

Oh well, we shall see.


There are crappie.

And then there are Reelfoot crappie.

Reelfoot crappie are real big. None of those hand-sized fish. We’re talking 11- and 12-inchers; now and then a two-pounder.

Spring is the best time to catch them, but October is also the time for the big ones.

Soc Clay and I, a few years back, traveled to Reelfoot Lake , arriving in time for the weigh-in for a Crappie Masters qualifying tournament held on the southern shore of the lake at Tiptonville. Team after team (two persons making up a team) brought basket after basket of flopping black and white crappie to the scales.

Even though the daily limit for everyday anglers is 25 per person, tournament participants were limited to seven crappie per team. The winning catch weighed more than 11 pounds – an average weight of 11/2 pounds per fish.

This trip came on in early March, with winds gusting to 30 and 40 mph and pushing up whitecaps and rollers across the shallow lake. The water temperature was 49 degrees.

“It was hard work fishing. We caught some very nice crappie, but not enough big ones,” said Kent Driscoll, a member of the pro staff of Crappie Masters sponsor BnM Pole Co., and also on the pro staff of War Eagle Boats.

Driscoll, a beer salesman in Cordova, Tenn. and his partner, John Harrison, police chief in Calhoun City, Miss., finished out of the running for the tournament.

So did six-time National Champion crappie catchers Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman, who developed the Capps and Coleman Minnow Rigs so popular with crappie fishermen these days.

According to their account, this duo has collected checks for over $1.3 million in tournament winnings and has been named Angler Team of the Year seven times for their success on both the Crappie Masters and Crappie USA tournament trails.

Soc and I were invited there by BnM for the Outdoor Writer Crappie Camp. Soc and I – along with nationally-known writers Keith Sutton, Chris Ginn and Gary Mason – stayed several days and nights at Blue Bank camp, located just down the shore a piece from the weigh-in point for the one-day tournament.

Blue Bank offers a fishing vacation that won’t break anyone. The camp offers an attractive package including room, meals, boat, bait and fish-cleaning and packaging.

Guides to put you on the crappie are available at a reasonable rate.


I knew Reelfoot, the “Earthquake Lake,” featured some of the best bluegill fishing to be found anywhere, but I didn’t realize the cypress trees and underwater stumps held such elephant-ear-sized crappie.

The Pro Staffers, a dozen of them, demonstrated multiple techniques for catching them, including wading, single pole jigging, spider rigging, bobber fishing, and trolling with the Capps and Coleman Minnow Rigs.

Spider rigging features eight 12-foot poles fished from rod holders off the front of the boat.

The team of Sonny and Greg Sipes, from Alabama, told me they were fishing a tournament once when they hooked five big crappie on five different poles all at the same time.

“We got them all in the boat, but then it took us half an hour to untangle all the lines and get back to fishing,” Sonny Sipes said.


Reelfoot Lake, covering about 12,000 acres and averaging eight to 14 feet deep, was formed by earthquakes that struck the area Dc. 16, 1811, and Jan. 23, 1812. Eye witnesses reported the Mississippi River, its bed shaken, flowed upstream before remembering its path on down to the Gulf of Mexico and leaving the shallow Reelfoot Lake behind.


Crappie are the best-eating fish that swim. All of the fish caught and weighed at the tournament were released alive. But, while they were on Reelfoot practicing the day before the tournament, anglers kept and filleted enough for a fry at the home of Ronnie Capps and his lovely and gracious wife, Kelli.

Um-m-m-m-uph! Along with chicken wings, white beans and hushpuppies, that made the 465-mile drive from the Ashland-Portsmouth area all the more worthwhile.

For information on membership in Crappie Masters, write Crappie Masters Inc., 23448 Siereks Ave., Warsaw, Mo. 65355, or call (660) 723-1552. The Web site is

For information on Blue Bank Resort and the special packages they offer for crappie fishing and fall waterfowling, write Blue Bank Resort, 815 Lake Drive, Hornbeak, TN 38232, or call toll-free 1-877-258-3226. The Web site is


G. Sam Piatt

Outdoors Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]